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26 Mar, 2010 05:50

Somali weapons scandal of 1990s rocks Latvia

Hackers in Latvia claim the country was selling arms to Somalia in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. They say they obtained copies of documents proving a top Latvian official supplied weapons to pirates.

The scandal seems to link Somali pirates, journalist murders and hackers.

In 1992, Janis Dibrancs, then-Latvian Ministry of Defense Head of Procurement, decided to make a quick profit by smuggling weapons to Somalia – already under United Nations Embargo.

“There was no control at all at the ports after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it was possible to carry out such transactions,” weapons exporter Arnolds Liebeks says.

Several shipments of AK-47s, ammunition and rocket launchers were transported from Poland, then loaded on to several boats just outside the main Navy base of Latvia. Millions of dollars worth of weapons were delivered to Somali pirates.

In 1994, they were used to kill Ilaria Alpi, a famous Italian journalist, and her cameraman.

Janis Dibrancs was arrested in 1996. And then the story took a bizarre turn.

Despite pleading guilty in a top secret trial conducted by Latvia's top prosecutors, Dibrancs was not incarcerated.

Journalist Imants Liepins, who broke the story, claims it was a cover-up designed to save the country's international reputation.

“A criminal investigation was initiated, and that's all. Literally nothing happened. He was released without any charges,” investigative journalist Imants Liepins says. “Latvia was not yet a member of the NATO block, so it was important to avoid doing anything ‘wrong’.”

However, trial documents have been recovered by an anonymous group that hacked into top secret government servers.

This scandal might date back more than fifteen years, but the controversy is not going to go away until the Prosecutors Office answers all the questions.

Now, parliament is preparing to conduct an investigation.

“Has everything been done that needed to be done by the authorities? Are we sure the money did not end up in the hands of criminals? The only possible excuse for this investigation to result in no prosecutions is that the suspect gave secret information that was passed on to other security services,” MP and member of the National Security Committee Andrey Klementiev says.

The mystery has shaken Latvians' faiths in their institutions. Further revelations may cause serious damage ahead of elections this year.